In the final part of his trilogy looking back at the 1992/93 season, Ed chats with Darren Eadie – then very much an up and coming youngster at the club but already one, as those who witnessed his first few games for the club, who had a tinge of future Canary greatness about him. Indeed, he swiftly became – and remains – a real fans favourite at Norwich; the nearest you will get to an old fashioned, out and out winger, with pace to burn and skills and trickery in abundance. But not only that, he also had a real enthusiasm for the team and for the game, a combination that made him a joy to watch.
You’re another player who Norwich who didn’t exactly find on their doorstep?
No, I’m from Chippenham. Born at the hospital there – though I think it’s gone now. It’s about 4 to 5 miles from Bath, about 20 miles from Bristol maybe? A few other clubs came in for me. I had trials with Swindon schoolboys. I also played for Southampton at that level. I was playing for them against Norwich – Jamie Cureton was playing for Norwich that day as I recall, when Norwich first approached me – I ended up signing as a schoolboy. It was a big step up for me, moving away from home at such a young age and I did a lot of growing up here. I shared a house in Norwich with some others, it was a chaotic time. Gordon Bennett and Sammy Morgan ran the youth side. Gordon was brilliant, he was so committed to the club and his work, on occasions he’d drive down to Chippenham and pick me up, then take me all the way home again afterwards. After he left the club, I did a lot of work under Keith Webb. He was also good for me and my career. After a while I decided that I didn’t really want to live here, but my Mum and Dad made me stay! I soon settled though, it was very like Chippenham – very quiet, very rural. So it felt like home after a while.
At that time, although you wouldn’t have known it, you were one of several youngsters at Norwich who would go on to play first team football at the club?
Yes, I think five or six of us did, which is a good total. We were all coming through at about the same time that Manchester United were having so much success with their young players! But lots of decent young players would have chosen to come to Norwich at that time, that way they would have a good chance of successfully coming through the system and making the first team. Norwich have always had that reputation. With respect to that, Gordon Bennett was brilliant. I think his title was Youth Development Officer. He helped me a great deal, and not just with regard to the football – he even helped me set up my first bank account, and that’s the one I still use today!
Which of your new team mates did you get on with the most, become friends with?
Oh, that would be Sutty [Chris Sutton]. He was the year above me, so I watched him progress his way into the first team – he started out as a centre half but moved up front and was very effective there. He was my roommate for a while, so it was good to tap into his experience and knowledge about things, it also helped with the transition from youth team football to playing in the first team, what with him being around and having made that step himself.
It must be quite daunting, going from the youth team side into the senior one and having to share a dressing room with these much older, much more experienced first team players?
It wasn’t too bad. The Youth Team at Norwich worked very closely with the First Team anyway, so it wasn’t such a big step as it could have been. The good team spirit was there throughout the club, from top to bottom, and the seniors would soon welcome you in and make you feel part of things. Mind you, I still had my errands to do! I cleaned Ian Culverhouse’s boots, also Rob Newman and Ian Crook’s. We also had other jobs at the club – cleaning the loo’s, keeping the changing rooms and showers clean and tidy, making sure the kit was all in one place, neat and tidy. One summer I remember, we had to paint the dressing rooms! But it is – or was – a rite of passage, you’re constantly being asked, ‘how much do you want to be a professional footballer then?’ Its different now. And I think the game and young players suffer for it. Young players, you talk to them, ask them about their ambitions, they say ‘I want to be rich’. It’s all about the money with so many of them, not the joy of playing the game. Their motives are all wrong-they want to be rich first, then be a footballer. But they need that dedication and drive, they won’t succeed in the game and they won’t ‘get rich’ without that, and it doesn’t matter how good they are. Norwich ended up getting someone in to clean the boots for the players. I didn’t agree with that. It was a good experience for the younger players, me included. ‘Your’ players would mentor you, if you looked after them, then they looked after you – there’d be a good tip at Christmas. It was a good way, a gentle way of getting to know a first team player.
You followed your contemporaries through the ranks though, boot cleaning and all – making your first team debut in a rather important game?
Yes, Vitesse Arnhem at Carrow Road, UEFA Cup game. I was in training when Mike Walker called me over, he said David Phillips had been injured, so I was being called into the squad as cover, and would be on the bench. I was nervous, of course. But the team was playing well, we were 3-0 up when I came on, replacing Gary Megson – and how good is that, there’s about 15, 20 minutes left, at home, 3-0 up, on I go, played out wide on the left. I soon got the ball, someone had found me in acres of space so I thought, ‘OK, this is it, run with the ball as fast as you can’ – so I did! I think my run led to us getting a corner, and I could hear the buzz in the crowd: ‘Who’s he then?’, that sort of thing. It was a perfect introduction for me. I wanted it then, I couldn’t get enough of the ball. Mind you, I was knackered when the final whistle went – that’s when it caught up with me, the mental pressure of it all, the expectation. But I was pleased, and remember thinking that, whatever else happens now, I’ve done this, first team appearance, UEFA Cup. I’m glad that it all happened when it did though, it might have been different just six months down the line.
Did Mike Walker take the youth team players away with the squad for first team games?
We went to watch the games. I was at the 3-3 draw at Middlesbrough on the last day of the season. My mate Andy Johnson played, and scored. It was good to be involved, it helped me get ready for when I would be getting into the team. But Mike had faith in us and himself, all of the team. He trusted the older lads to look after the younger ones, it was a good mix, we all got on well and he was there for all of us. There was me, Ade Akinbiyi, Jamie Cureton, Deryn Brace – Deryn’s played in Europe, so has Ade. We had a good bunch and a great team spirit. I benefitted from being around the established players and looked up to them, respected them. Ian Culverhouse, Ian Crook. I loved playing with Chippy, he’d always find me, he has such an innate ability with the ball. I’d reciprocate for him, make sure I found him whenever possible. Mike boosted my confidence more after the Vitesse game, picking me to start against QPR at Loftus Road; we drew 2-2 but I scored – Sutty set it up. That was such a good team to come into, I had Mark Bowen right behind me; he had so much talent and space. Then there was Gossy in midfield, putting in all the hard work. I look back at the team at the time and the players, and I do think what a great team it was. I have some great memories. I’ve still got all the shirts I swapped. I remember tackling Lothar Matthaus, how good can it get? You dream of those sort of moments when you’re kicking a ball against the wall! Luckily, at that time, Gordon Bennett kept us in our place, helping us along the way.
Did you enjoy playing under Martin O’Neill – he would have managed you at Norwich and Leicester?
You couldn’t help but improve as a player under Martin O’Neill. Paul Lambert seemed a very similar sort of Manager, I’d have enjoyed playing under him as well I think. But yes, I moved onto Leicester and Martin O’Neill again, from Norwich. I did not want to leave Norwich. I was happy here, on a good wage, playing good football, we were settled in the area – I had no intention of leaving. But, the club needed the money at the time and I was a commodity – I was told if I didn’t move, the club would be in real trouble. But that’s football. Players and Managers move on for different reasons, and it’s always happened. You can’t blame people for moving onto improve themselves – though maybe it’s different now. If you’re doing well of course, no-one wants to leave. Success breeds loyalty. But Norwich had to sell. And Leicester, Martin, they really wanted me. I had a very strict medical before I signed for Leicester, the surgeon who examined me said, ‘with that knee he could play for another ten years – or barely another ten games, I can’t be certain either way’. Martin O’Neill said, ‘I don’t care, I want him here’. It means something to you when your Manager says things like that. I never saw that much of him mind. The thing is though, when you’ve a Manager like that, you want to impress him when he is there, you want him to react to it and notice you.
What were your first impressions of him at Norwich?
I remember John Robertson coming along as part of his ‘team’, in fact, he’d just be there as one of Martin’s mates to start with. We were out training when we noted this old chap wander over, in his suit, asking if he could borrow a pair of boots and join in. We didn’t know who it was – anyway, he puts the boots on, still wearing his suit and joins us on the pitch, this old chap, barrel-chested, whiskey in one hand, fag in the other. And he still had it! He could play, up and down that wing. Martin O’Neill is great at getting the best out of a player. Paul Lambert is the same, so is Sir Alex Ferguson. You don’t want too much familiarity with your Manager. Yes, he’s there for you, but there is no doubt who the boss is and what he says, goes. Players respect that. Mike Walker, to be fair, was a completely different sort of character to Martin. He was far more ‘pally’ with you’; he’d muck about with you on the way to away matches, play-fighting with the players at the back of the coach. But a lot of him had known him as Reserve Team Coach, so we’d sort of grown up with him. He gave the players some slack but we respected him, he had the balance between being your mate and having the authority exactly spot on. Respect is crucial; you have to respect the Manager. Watching the game now, you can tell which teams and which players are working for their Manager and which ones aren’t.
Have you ever worked or played alongside someone who you didn’t like?
Yes I have. And he was a great player, he still is. But we didn’t get on. But you don’t have to get on with everyone, and that’s going to be the case in any walk of life. There were about 25 of us, all together at the club, were we all going to get along with each other? Come on, Ed! We mostly bonded, of course, but you can’t have it all. There were some great characters at the club. Butts [Ian Butterworth] and Cully were the serious ones. The jokers? Foxy [Ruel Fox], Sutty, Lee Power. There was a lot of banter and football banter, at the top level. It is relentless. It’s really ‘sink or swim’ if you’re new to an established dressing room. It must be like coming into an army barracks, you can’t hide or you’ll get destroyed. It’s a very male orientated environment, of course, and you’ve got to learn to take it and take it well. At Christmas, the young players –and I did my turn – had to come and sing a song to the senior pros, some Christmas Carols maybe. Now, making your debut in front of nearly 17,000 people and all the TV cameras? Not a problem. But singing a song in front of 25 older pros? That’s horrendous, you’ll get battered. One year, one of the young lads came in and sang a Carol – well, he got it all, eggs, flour, shoe polish. Again, it’s ‘how much do you want this; it’s about your desire to be a footballer, to achieve that goal. Despite that, the older players kept an eye out, watched over us. Fleckie was one of them, always looking out for the young lads. He was a sort of talisman for us, he led by example. If he did a bad pass, he’d get down and do some press up’s. He was a great lad; he always had time for, and a big welcome for the younger ones.
Fleckie had that big element of mischief about him didn’t he?
He was a character, like Gazza. On the pitch he made such a difference. We miss people like him, the characters in the game. He had his moments (huge smile breaks out on Darren’s face), sometimes, at half time, he’d pull his shorts and slip right down to his ankles, and sit there, with everything hanging out! Maybe it helped him relax or unwind at half time, but, if the Manager was going to give him a bollocking, how could he do so, with, well, him sitting there like that? Great character.
Like so many ex-Norwich players who moved on, you’ve settled back in the area – you must like it?
I love the City and the County. And I was, and am, very proud to have been a part of this club. Because it’s a smaller City, people do tend to recognise you more easily and you have to expect that. If you’re out and about and someone asks for your autograph, it usually means that you’re doing well – you might be in the middle of meal of course, but, even so, I’d say ‘just let me finish my food’, I’d still go and sign for them. It strokes the ego. I rarely got abuse. I loved playing and I loved being at Norwich. I could still be playing today – I much prefer that, as I don’t like watching. I miss playing. When I watch a game, I get all analytical about it, I can’t enjoy it. When you have to quit, it tears the heart out, it really does.
What are your favourite memories?
I remember a game at Old Trafford against Manchester United. I was just taking it all in and happened to look across-and there, standing right by me was Eric Cantona. I just thought, ‘bloody hell, it’s Eric Cantona!’
Are you happy?
Yes. But it took a while after I quit to settle down. I enjoy watching my son play – but I still find myself wanting to be out there. And there’s a tinge of jealousy as regards the game at the moment and people having success. I guess it’s different when you choose to retire; you may not miss it as much? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll fully come to terms with it when I’m about 70? Like I said, I do miss playing. And I think many players, maybe in a similar situation; they are reluctant to admit that. But it’s difficult to explain and I think that, unless you’ve done it, unless you’ve played, you can never really understand how it feels. I’d love it if my son became a professional footballer, it’d be brilliant. It’s the best life in the world. I’m enjoying life. I love my fishing still and I have lots of other interests. I’m also very proud to have been part of the history of Norwich City. I was there during some very good times for the club and I am remembered positively from the fans, which is nice! They were good times and I enjoy looking back at them. Those great moments, they’re there and gone in a flash – what I will always remember more, and with greater pleasure, is the friendship and banter. There’s nothing like it, it’s a wonderful life.
Darren’s love for the game came across so strongly in the interview. If I’d have produced a football and suggested we had a quick kick around on the nearby hallowed turf of Carrow Road, I think he’s have been out there and ready before I’d even got up from my place! It was one of the worse days of my Norwich supporting life when he moved to Leicester, but, of much greater hurt, was his eventual early retirement through injury, hurt not just felt by me and thousands of other Norwich (and Leicester City fans) but deeply within the game of football itself. Many young players could do with sitting down and listening to Darren, they could learn a lot, not least to make the very best of the fantastic opportunity they have and how to make the very best of it… while it lasts.
Is there any ex-Norwich player, manager, incident or era that you would like Ed to reflect upon in a future column, something to get a discussion going? Let us know.
‘Fantasy Football’, Ed’s book about the club’s 1992/93 season which features interviews with many of the players and people involved at the club during that time is available at Jarrold, Waterstones (Castle Street, Norwich branch) and online at www.legendspublishing.net/ncfc.